SimCity 3000 builds on a familiar favorite

SimCity 3000
Genre
Reviewed On
PC
Available For
Mac, PC
Difficulty
Hard
Publisher(s)
Developer(s)
ESRB
ESRB
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Listen up, this is the Mayor speaking!

What you haven’t heard of me before? Why, I’ve been the mayor (read "dictator") of several successful towns, some with populations of almost two million people. My least whim can topple enterprises, my slightest fancy can cause a freeway to be built next to your house.

This is the fantasy that Maxis has been offering control freaks like myself for years. You get put in as mayor of your own town. No election, no campaign, you merely appoint yourself for life. Of course, it does help that you are also the town founder.

Maxis has what is perhaps one of the industry’s best examples of building a franchise around a single game. I remember my first encounter with the original SimCity back in the late 80’s. I was working in one of the first Egghead Software stores on the East Coast as a summer job. The idea was that I would get a chance to play with all the latest games coming out without having to shell out the dinero to buy them. A great plan, but SimCity ruined all of that. I was hooked from the start, playing it every chance I got, and ignoring the other games.

I now have a (somewhat) real job, Egghead no longer has stores — only Web sites, and a new release of SimCity has caused me to once again become one of the fluorescent tan set. SimCity 3000 is the name of the new release. For SimCity fans who’ve been holding on since SimCity 2000, it’s likely seemed as if a thousand years have passed since the last release. Its been only five, but that’s an eternity to those of us who can build a city in a few hours.

So what does SimCity 3000 bring to the table? It is pretty much a mixed bag of delightful surprise s and nagging disappointments. For those who wanted a more realistic sim, SimCity 3000 does that. For those that wanted 3D rendering, virtual fly-throughs, and something exotic added to the mix, you’ll likely be disappointed.

While Maxis did not add 3D rendering to SC3000 (a thought at one time), the new graphics are pretty darn good. A nice level of detail is evident in everything — from the fraternity signs hanging from the university’s clock tower down to the cars, skateboarders, and construction crews walking the streets of your town. If you click around the map a little too fast, especially on larger towns, it takes a while for the software to fill in the graphics when you’re zoomed in.

This was even true on a PC with a Pentium II 450-MHz processor and 256MB of RAM running Windows NT. No one should expect SimCity 3000 to run very well on anything less than a Pentium II 266-MHz with 64MB RAM and a nice sized cache file.

Maxis was probably stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place when designing SC3000. Users, especially SimUsers, want more realism and better graphics. The company however wants to sell a game with broad platform support in the market. With as many factors as a good sim has to juggle, I can’t really fault Maxis for not keeping the platform requirements a little lower.

Anyway, while SC3000 is a resource hog, it isn’t wasting them. SC3000 supports larger map sizes for one thing, new variables like waste management have been added into the mix and the interface has been given a much-needed facelift.

In fact, I don’t believe I’ll be hearing anyone complaining about the new interface. It takes some getting used to, but it is so much easier to use that the learning curve is a pleasure to climb.

There however will be complaints about some features of SC3000. A "Key Feature" mentioned in the reviewer’s guide [and in a lot of the product’s marketing] has been reduced to an "extra" by the time SC3000 shipped. Namely, the Building Architect Tool, which was supposed to ship with the product, is still in hiding. The official SimCity Web site (www.simcity.com) keeps promising it will be out soon, but we haven’t seen anything yet.

The Building Architect Tool was the feature that I personally was most looking forward to in this new release. It provides users the ability to create their own buildings, a feature that would allow you to create the true city of your dreams. It would even be nicer to be able to change the look of the cars and the people, but if we asked for that, we’d probably never see it.

However, Maxis did come out with CityCam, a tool that lets you publish your city to a web site for viewing by Java-enabled browsers. A nice way to achieve bragging rights, but there are a couple shortcomings. There are no animations in the browser view, and a lack of reporting on the statistics of the city. While it does provide the name of the mayor and city, the population size and whether or not cheats were used, that’s just scratching the surface. If someone is going to publish their city to the web, they will want to share a whole lot more information on the city, such as the current budget, are disasters turned on or off, and the state of the water supply for example.

While SimCity 3000 is cool, it is not as cool as it could have been. While the larger maps, better graphics, and more realistic simulation details are all nice, they are the base minimum for what SimCity 3000 should have been. SimCity addicts like myself will still get a lot of enjoyment out of this, but after building a couple of cities, you soon get a strong feeling of déjà vu. Maxis had the chance to use the SimCity line to produce something revolutionary, instead SimCity 3000, while mildly satisfying, is merely a small evolutionary step forward. It almost seems like one of Maxis and Electronic Arts concerns was not to create the coolest SimCity ever, but to milk a successful franchise.

With all of this taken into consideration, I can only give SimCity 3000 a grade of 3 and 1/2 GiN Gems. I wish it could have been more.

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